Seven county coalition still in the works

The vote by the Florida High School Athletic Association’s board of directors to push back the start of fall practices to at least Aug. 24 provided a uniform date while still giving much-needed time for athletic programs to adjust to safety protocols amid the ongoing pandemic. 

But that decision did little to deter counties from opting out of the state series and forming their own coalition. 

Pinellas County athletic director Al Bennett said he was still committed to forming a coalition with six other counties, including Hillsborough and Pasco. The group plans to meet again Tuesday to work out more details.

So far, the primary emphasis has been with football. The plan is to start practices after Labor Day and have a seven or eight-game regular season that would begin on Sept. 25, followed by a playoff or a bowl game. 

The schedules in other sports such as cross country, golf and swimming would still align the FHSAA’s  calendar in hopes of allowing individuals the opportunity to qualify for postseason and state meets if they are held. 

The only thing that could give pause to the plan is how the state series is structured, particularly in football. 

“I’d like to see how the back end of the schedule looks like once the FHSAA determines an official start date,” Bennett said. 

On Monday, the FHSAA’s board of directors voted to maintain the July 27 start date (now pushed back to Aug. 24) and for schools to declare their state series intention by a certain date. Schools that decide not to participate in the FHSAA playoffs can play regular season games through the end of the state series events on Dec. 12.

Though the July 27 date initially remained the same, nearly every area county has decided to wait before conducting their first official practices in cross country, football, golf, volleyball  and swimming. 

Bennett said public schools would not practice on July 27, though he has not been able to give a specific date when they can start. Hillsborough County pushed back practices to Aug. 10 and Pasco County moved them until Sept. 7. Hernando has postponed fall practices indefinitely.